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Aladdin and the 40 Issues of Casting

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece in response to the ridiculousness surrounding the casting of Aladdin and Jasmine for Disney’s live action adaptation. I thought after that article I had nothing more to say. Then Disney announced the full cast… And I realized I want a trailer. So here’s a roundup and thoughts on the finalized lead cast. (The extras better be diverse too!)

As stated in my last article, Aladdin was always going to be a problem. Disney’s amalgam of India and the Middle East, racist depictions of the men, and the sexism around Jasmine made for a crappy source text.

Then Disney announced Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) as the director for the script written by John August (Charlie’s Angels). Vanessa Taylor (Game of Thrones) is now editing it. Not a single SA/ME person on the production team. That and the statement that they couldn’t find the right person for either role had me rolling my eyes.

When Egyptian Mena Massoud and British-Gujarati Naomi Scott were finally cast, I like many others was excited. Except, South Asians and Arabs started shouting at each other over stolen roles. As if the movie had been a bastion of positive representation in the first place? My reaction to that is in my prior piece. The takeaway is that the original source text for this remake was never going to lead to positive representation. The entire premise is a racist and sexist hodge-podge of South Asian and Arab influences! Adding a diverse cast representative of South Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African backgrounds is only the first step.

That diverse cast includes Tunisian-Dutch Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. Iranian Navid Negahban stars as the Sultan and Iranian Nasim Pedrad is Dalia. She portrays Princess Jasmine’s hand maiden and confidante, newly created for the film. Turkish Numan Acar is Hakim, Jafar’s right-hand man and head of the palace guards. America’s own Will Smith portrays the Genie.

A new character, Prince Anders, (Lithuanian Billy Magnussen) is a suitor from Skanland (a city in Norway). I bet that he replaces Prince Achmed who tried to marry Jasmine in the original. Unlike everyone else who is angry about his addition, if he stays a potential suitor and actual romantic rival for Aladdin, I think having a token white dude is great!

I’m also excited that Jasmine gets to talk to someone outside of a tiger who might not even be in the film. None of the animal characters have been mentioned in casting yet.

At the end of the day, with a talented cast from all over the world and a production team behind various past hits, the movie should be okay. Add in good music (Alan Menken), hopefully, respectful costuming and links to various source cultures, Aladdin should be an enjoyable film for all audiences.

Now we just need a trailer to really start analyzing.


Images courtesy of Will Smith, Walt Disney, NBC

Seher
Written By

Seher obsesses over show ratings and usually writes about media representation issues. Otherwise, she's reading away for her graduate program in anthropology.

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